MINNEAPOLIS — The familiar refrain played out five times before the opening tip Sunday evening at Williams Arena.
As each starter for third-ranked Ohio State was introduced, the speakers inside The Barn sang out a hook from one of rock group Foreigner’s biggest hits. Five times, the refrain declared each Buckeye to be “as cold as ice.”
It proved eerily accurate. Against a more physical Minnesota team, the Buckeyes shot a season-low 38.3 percent from the field, struggled to sustain any sort of offensive rhythm and had no answers for Golden Gophers guard Marcus Carr as they were knocked from the ranks of the unbeatens with an 84-71 loss that was more decisive than the final score indicated.
Ohio State (9-1, 1-1 Big Ten) trailed for 33:11 as the Gophers (5-5, 1-1) built a lead as big as 18 points and led by at least three possessions for the final 21:37.
“They were the more physical, the more ready team,” senior Andre Wesson told The Dispatch. “I put that on me as a senior. I’ve got to be ready from the get-go, and I wasn’t that for my team. That’s why we got beat.”
With a chance to grab the No. 1 spot in Monday’s Associated Press poll for the first time since they held it to close the 2010-11 regular season, the Buckeyes instead looked every bit like a team that had temporarily lost a key part of the rotation and endured an eight-day layoff for finals with inconsistent practices since a 106-74 win over Penn State on Dec. 7.
Hours before the game, sophomore guard Duane Washington Jr. was announced as out with a rib injury after having missed the entire week’s worth of practice. He is officially listed as day-to-day.
Washington was replaced by Wesson, an opening-night starter, but it kept the Buckeyes from playing three-guard lineups for much of the game and affected coach Chris Holtmann’s substitution patterns.
Holtmann was clear, however: It was not why Ohio State lost the game.
“I’m not sure right now that even with Duane we win this game tonight,” he said. “I think they were physically tougher, and we’ve got to get better at that area. His absence obviously leaves a scoring vacancy, but I don’t think it was ever really one of those games that was in reach.”
Carr saw to that. No one had scored more than 19 points against the Buckeyes entering the game, and the third-year sophomore transfer from Pittsburgh was coming off a 1-of-10 shooting performance against Iowa. But in this one he poured in a career-high 35 points on 12-of-17 shooting against an Ohio State defense that collectively had no answers.
“He has a good first step and is very strong around the basket,” said Ohio State freshman D.J. Carton, who had a team- and career-high 19 points. “He’s a tough player, and he made some smart decisions and made some great shots tonight.”
The first Gophers win against a top-five team since it beat No. 1 Indiana on Feb. 27, 2013, also kept Big Ten teams undefeated at home through the first 13 conference games this season. The crowd of 9,854 celebrated by storming the court at the final buzzer.
“Probably their pressure bothered us more than I anticipated, and their physicality,” Holtmann said. “They were more aggressive on the ball, in the passing lanes, in situations that maybe we had seen (so far this year).”